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10 Mar 2003 : Column 5—continued

Olympic Bid

4. Angela Watkinson (Upminster): If she will make a statement on the Government's policy on a London bid for the 2012 Olympic games. [101457]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): The Government fully recognise the potential benefits of a bid to host both the 2012 Olympics and the Paralympic games, which are sometimes forgotten when we talk about the Olympic games. It is important that any prospective bid be subject to full and rigorous scrutiny to ensure that it covers all eventualities and makes sufficient allowances for contingencies, which is why we have conducted detailed work on the cost and benefits of hosting the games in London in 2012.

Angela Watkinson : Does the Minister agree that a successful bid would be a tremendous boost for tourism in London, specifically the regeneration of east London and the Thames gateway, part of which lies in the London borough of Havering? I urge him to announce as soon as possible the funding arrangements for the bid.

Mr. Caborn: I agree. We have been taking seriously inward investment in tourism and the impact on the Thames gateway. In fact, when submitting our proposals to the Cabinet we have had to consider carefully the effect on the 20-year plan for the Thames gateway, because we do not want expenditure priorities to affect that development. Equally, we do not want a bid to stop development, which could happen if the

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matter is not handled properly. It is therefore important to make sure that, if we make a bid, it dovetails with developments such as the Thames gateway.

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Harrow, West): Does my right hon. Friend accept that a further benefit of holding the 2012 Olympic games in London would be significant new investment in sporting facilities to help grassroots sport? What assessment have his officials made of the way in which such investment could be spread outside the immediate area of the games, perhaps as far as west London?

Mr. Caborn: On the regional development of sport, we are mindful that there must not be a diversion of funds from grassroots development into the submission of an Olympic bid. Yes, an Olympic bid may have regional benefits and, if a bid is made and we decide to go ahead, we will look at where we can get regional advantages both in running the games and hosting outside-London events such as sailing, shooting and football. Those are three sports that spring to mind where the regions could have an advantage and could be the sites of training camps before the Olympics.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): May I urge the Minister not to be put off by arguments that because the dome was a flop so will the Olympics be? With the dome, people did not know what they wanted to put in it or what they wanted to do with it afterwards. If the capital city of the world's fourth largest economy cannot make a bid, that does not say much for Britain, does it?

Mr. Caborn: I think that the hon. Gentleman was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the President of the Board of Trade when the dome was discussed at length, and I fully agree that all the mistakes were made then. That apart, it is a great privilege for a country to host the Olympics so, if we make a bid, we will approach it seriously. We have the experience of the Commonwealth games, which were successful but had to be refinanced, as the hon. Gentleman knows. The plans on the bid submitted to the Cabinet will therefore be robust and deliverable. Besides the Commonwealth games, this weekend the International Association of Athletics Federations indoor world athletics championship is taking place in Birmingham, and we will show the world that we are very good at running major international events.

Jim Knight (South Dorset): Can my right hon. Friend expand on the regional role in any Olympics that may be held here in 2012? In particular, can he confirm what the British Olympic Association has told me—sailing, our most successful Olympic sport, would take place in Weymouth in my constituency; football would go on a tour around the country; and training camps, too, would seek homes all over the country?

Mr. Caborn: That is exactly what I said a couple of minutes ago. A number of areas need to be explored in relation to how UK Limited can gain from the Olympics. There are already indications that we could get some fairly major economic gain in terms of inward investment and tourism. First, however, we have to make the bid. The Cabinet has not yet made the decision

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to do so, but if we do, we shall set up powerful committees to ensure that all the advantages will be made available both to the regions and to London. I hope that the partnerships that have formed so far across the House and between the political parties will be maintained right up to 2012.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to Barry Sheene, who did so much to make his own sport popular, and whose bravery both on and off the track was an inspiration to many people? Does the Minister agree that he demonstrated the power of sport to bring together people and, indeed, nations, and that that makes it all the more important that we should take a decision about the Olympics as soon as possible?

Mr. Caborn: May I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's words about Barry Sheene? He was a tremendous sports person of the highest calibre. In terms of making the bid, let us be clear that what we are doing now is ensuring that the groundwork will be well covered and well prepared in the event of our making a bid. France has not even decided yet whether to put Paris into the ring. Moscow is about to make a decision, as are New York, possibly Madrid and probably a German city. The bids do not have to be in until July this year, and we want to ensure that what we present to the Cabinet is very good. We do not want to make the mistakes that were made over the dome, we do not necessarily want to go down the route of what happened at the Commonwealth games, and we are definitely not going to recycle Wembley and Picketts Lock. We are now saying that we are going to be strategy-driven rather than events-driven, and the preparation that we are making to present to the Cabinet will ensure that, if we do make a bid, it will be successful at every stage and we will not get into crisis management.

Mr. Whittingdale: We obviously understand the pressure on Ministers' diaries and on their time at this particular moment, but it is seven months since the Ove Arup report, four months since the Minister undertook his global tour of Olympic cities, and eight weeks since the Government's own deadline for taking a decision. The Minister has talked about not rushing into anything, and we agree with that, but is there not a danger that the Government are beginning to give an impression of dither and lack of commitment just at the time when our potential competitors are warming up on the starting blocks?

Mr. Caborn: I was in Copenhagen last week at the world anti-drugs agencies conference, and I spoke to Jacques Rogge of the International Olympic Committee. He, of all people, acknowledges the difficulties that politicians around the world are experiencing at the moment, involving some very serious issues that we hope can be resolved. Indeed, our Prime Minister is at the centre of that international stage, and we hope that he is making a positive contribution. To that extent, I believe that Jacques Rogge understood that the Olympics take second place at this time.

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I reiterate that I have not seen anyone on the starting blocks yet. France has not yet put in a bid for Paris, and others are still considering the issue. When our Secretary of State phoned Jacques Rogge to say that the Cabinet was not going to take a decision a few weeks ago, he told her that he was very impressed by the groundwork that was being done. The Arup report suggested a figure of about £2.3 billion; we have now moved to a figure of £3.6 billion to ensure that all the contingencies that we believe are likely to arise over the next eight or nine years are covered. That is very important indeed.

Channel Five

5. Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): What recent representations she has received regarding the clauses in the Communications Bill on the ownership of Channel Five; and if she will make a statement. [101458]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): We received a number of representations on this subject from television and media companies and from members of the public. By removing ownership rules for Channel Five, we hope that new investment will allow it to grow and to provide more competition in terrestrial broadcasting.

Mr. Mullin : What is to stop Mr. Murdoch's News Corporation buying up Channel Five and using it, through vigorous cross-promotion in his other assets, as a Trojan horse to overtake ITV as the main commercial channel? If my hon. Friend is unwilling to reinstate the cross-ownership rules, will he at least consider putting the quality standards thresholds that will be expected of Channel Five on the face of the Communications Bill, regardless of who the new owner happens to be?

Dr. Howells: No. We have spent a great deal of time debating the creature that is to become Ofcom—it will be a powerful regulator. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend that there is an anomaly in doing what we are doing with Channel Five, given that, at the moment, Vivendi, Bertelsmann, Berlusconi or any such company may own it. They are all enormous corporations with big interests in American groups, and so on. It is a very outdated idea that, somehow, the arrangements that are in place will prevent Channel Five from remaining a vibrant and good company. I am absolutely convinced that it will grow, whoever owns it, if the regulatory environment is a good one, and we have created the best that we can possibly create.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Has not Channel Five been underfunded for too long and if News Corporation were to acquire it, would it not provide good funding, as it has already done for Sky One and the Sky sports channels, to provide good programming? The Minister mentioned a number of European media companies that could take over Channel Five, but could not a number of European media porn channels take it over? Rupert Murdoch is far preferable to that.

Dr. Howells: I am not a paid-up member of the News International glee club, but I will say this to the hon. Gentleman: a lot of parody has been going on over the influence of various groups relating to the ownership of

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television channels and, indeed, of newspapers. There are sufficient controls in the proposed Ofcom, which we are in the business of creating right now, to ensure that abuses such as those the hon. Gentleman mentioned will not take place.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby): Given that the Secretary of State told the Westminster Media Forum that it would be open to Ofcom to ratchet up the public service obligations on Channel Five, are there not advantages for regulatory certainty in introducing a ratchet principle to the Bill, so that any purchaser of Channel Five would know clearly that, if its audience grew, there would be greater obligations to produce programmes, original productions and regional productions?

Dr. Howells: I rarely disagree with my hon. Friend about anything, but that is a curious question. He is saying that there ought to be so many ratcheting mechanisms acting on Channel Five that nobody would want to buy it and nobody would want to grow it. That is not what Channel Five wants, and it is not what I want. I want Channel Five to flourish and become a real competitor to ITV and every other company broadcasting in this country. I also want it to become a quality broadcaster, which it is starting to do. If it is to achieve that, it will have to find investment from somewhere. Perhaps we ought to discard some of these conspiracy theory scenarios that we are so fond of spouting in this place and understand that broadcasters need investment, just as other companies do.

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